Two children from the Mochida family of Hayward, California, await evacuation to an internment camp in May 1942.
Photograph by Dorothea Lange, Department of the Interior, War Relocation Authority

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  • On January 14, 1942, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued Proclamation 2537. This document laid the groundwork for Executive Order 9066 and the internment of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. More than 100,000 Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and placed in camps in the western United States as part of the largest forced relocation in U.S. history.

    Following the bombing of Pearl Harbor a month earlier, the U.S. government decided to place American citizens of Japanese descent in internment camps for the duration of the war. The military suspected that Japanese Americans might be loyal to Japan, and explained that the detentions would prevent Japanese Americans from spying on or sabotaging U.S. military efforts.

    Social justice groups protested the internment as a violation of Japanese Americans’ civil rights. In 1944, in the landmark case Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the detainment of loyal American citizens was constitutional. Although the last internment camps closed in 1946, Korematsu was not overturned until 2018.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    citizen Noun

    member of a country, state, or town who shares responsibilities for the area and benefits from being a member.

    civil rights Plural Noun

    set of fundamental freedoms guaranteed to all individuals, such as participation in the political system, ability to own property, and due process and equal protection under the law.

    detain Verb

    to confine or delay.

    forced relocation Noun

    migration of people from one place to another, as ordered by the government or international authority.

    Franklin Roosevelt Noun

    (1882-1945) 32nd president of the United States.

    government Noun

    system or order of a nation, state, or other political unit.

    internment Noun

    confinement.

    military Noun

    armed forces.

    Pearl Harbor attack Noun

    (1941) air assault by Japanese on American forces at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, which led to American entry into World War II.

    unconstitutional Adjective

    against the laws of the United States Constitution.

    World War II Noun

    (1939-1945) armed conflict between the Allies (represented by the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union) and the Axis (represented by Germany, Italy, and Japan.)